Comedian, actor, and writer, Bob Kerr is currently a writer on CBC's award-winning This Hour Has 22 Minutes which earned him a Gemini nomination. He was a founding member of the 12-man sketch troupe The Sketchersons which earned three consecutive nominations for the Canadian Comedy Award. He has written for Cream of Comedy (Comedy Network), a segment for CBC Newsworld Live (CBC), Comedy Inc. (CTV), Nikki Payne's Funtime Show! (Comedy Network Special), and Hotbox (Comedy Network). Bob also co-wrote and performed in the short film, The Funeral, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival and CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival in 2008. In 2011, Bob participated in the CFC/Telefilm Comedy Lab for a horror-comedy feature film script that he co-wrote entitled The House They Screamed In. You can follow Bob on Twitter.
RUSTY TALK WITH BOB KERR
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively?
Bob Kerr: As a fan of Letterman, I would write my own Top Ten Lists and read them to my fellow kids at the back of the bus. I also wrote stories that were a direct inspiration of movies I was into. I wrote a story that was about a baseball team that was trapped within a (Jurassic Park-type) jungle and the star pitcher was bitten by a "gypsy hamster" that turned him into a (Pet Sematary 2-style) zombie. Really dumb.
KM: When did you first start writing for film/TV and how did you get into it?
BK: I was a member of a comedy troupe called The Sketchersons, and we did a weekly show called Sunday Night Live which heavily borrowed from the format of Saturday Night Live. I had done the Weekend Update part of the show for a large part of the time. Producers who saw the show asked me to submit things. My first writing gig was a for a late-night talk show pilot that didn't go anywhere and that was followed by my first trial run at This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
KM: Was there a writer or filmmaker that had a big impact on you?
BK: It was mainly performers, actually. David Letterman and Conan O'Brien were big influences. They do what they want to do. And a lot of it's really weird, and I like weird things.
KM: How does the writing room work for This Hour Has 22 Minutes?
BK: Early in the week, we pitch sketches and spend the whole day and night writing them. After the table read, sketches are picked and then the following days are focused more on copy jokes (a.k.a. news jokes...y'know, the set-up-punch stuff) and things called ledes, which is writing jokes around actual news footage. We sometimes pair up on sketches, but there's a lot of independent writing. My favourite days are writing copy jokes because we have table reads of those jokes amongst the writers and we have a couple laughs. Sometimes even more.
KM: For someone looking to get into TV or comedy writing, a writing room—especially a comedy room—can seem intimidating. Do you have any advice for how to get over feeling like an idiot if your joke fails or no one likes your ideas in the room?
BK: Trust me, I know what it's like to feel like an idiot. I've had plenty of stuff bomb in the room. An important thing to remember is that you're in good company; everybody bombs. Bombing is a very key part of the writing process. Because you learn from it. Mainly what works and what doesn't. So ultimately, don't dwell on feeling like an idiot. Because you will miss the bomb lesson. It's not about you! Get over yourself! Move on! (I feel like I'm talking to myself now.)
KM: What is your writing process like for your other projects—other collaborations or solo projects?
BK: Typical; go to coffee shop, order an Americano and stare at my computer screen. Collaborations can be fun if you're doing it with the right person. Someone that you feel comfortable bouncing ideas with.
KM: What is the biggest difference between writing for film and writing for TV?
BK: You spend way more time with a film script than a TV script. There's pros and cons to both. With TV, you don't have all the time in the world to make "the perfect script", so there's not much time for rewrites. You are also forced to write a lot and quickly and that kind of pressure is good. I think you get better stuff from that. Plus, there's a whole writing room that will punch up your ho-hum material. Again, it's not about you.
KM: When getting notes from producers/story editors/show runners—what do you do when you get a note that you don't like or don't agree with on your script?
BK: Well, there's two ways to go about it. You either don't make the change and pray they don't notice (which they usually do), or you talk it out with said note-giver. That being said, pick your battles. One thing I've learned in TV is that I can't be too precious with anything I write. With 22, there's not a lot of time, because I'm most likely onto something else. Plus, it's hard to feel precious about something I've worked on for a couple of hours the night before as opposed to something I've been working on for weeks or months.
KM: Do you have any advice for someone aspiring to write for television? What is the best way to break in?
BK: I don't know what the best way is. I only know my way. I was tenacious and I wrote a lot of stuff. I was out there performing with a great troupe every week on top of doing stand-up and I was getting myself seen. It's a lot of work to get a job. There's also the standard advice: Write spec scripts, get an agent, write more spec scripts.
KM: What are you working on now?
BK: I'm going to be returning to Halifax for the 20th season of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. I'm currently working on a spec pilot as well. I'm also trying to think of a funny tweet.
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